“I will reach you in just a few minutes,” a driver of one of the new transportation application companies told me recently—which concluded in my being picked up half an hour later. The dilemma of such applications is that most of the drivers don’t take into account the fact that the application technology determines their locations and the time required to reach their customers. The Uber and Careem applications transmit to customers a transparent image of what is happening behind the scenes within their companies, thus highlighting the deficiencies inherent in Egyptian work attitudes.
Imagine for a moment that restaurant customers can use their mobile devices to observe the chef who is cooking their meals, or to check whether their private chauffeurs are taking the correct route; technology nowadays easily enables people to monitor their contractors’ performances from thousands of miles away. Through their innovative applications, Uber and Careem have succeeded in offering a transparent relationship between customers and the drivers assigned to them, providing an additional service that the Egyptian workforce is unaccustomed to.
Our true dilemma, as Egyptians, is that while we are proud to impose our own characteristics, we do not necessarily work to advance our productivity! This can be seen in the way we often adapt the original applications of state-of-the art technologies to fit our habits and working norms—which we have no desire to change. The Uber and Careem applications are an excellent innovation that is extremely suitable for Egyptian workers, many of whom are on the lookout for small businesses that they can own and manage, or for jobs with flexible working hours that provide a decent income.
Sadly, many drivers don’t want to abide by their employers’ basic rules and regulations; they believe that because they own the vehicles they drive, they are entitled to behave as they wish. Playing loud music, speaking on the phone, driving smelly, unclean cars, arguing with other drivers, and countless other unpleasant matters are common among many of the drivers I have ridden with recently. I am sure that both Uber and Careem have printed manuals or guides instructing their drivers to respect proper codes of business conduct—but Egypt’s predicament lies in our tendency to ignore such manuals.
Eager to generate quick returns on their investments, these companies—and the entire Egyptian business community—tend to compromise the contents of their manuals and protocols for the sake of realising fast profits. I used to give both companies fair feedback when confronted with a driver’s misbehavior; the company would then apologize and compensate me. However, I have come to realize that this complaint system is designed to observe customers’ frustrations—not to improve the system.
Rather than advancing and developing their operating system and practices, ordinary taxis in Egypt are trying to prevent Uber and Careem from working in the country. Egypt is probably the only country where taxi drivers have the right to approve customers’ destinations prior to giving them a ride. Furthermore, taxi drivers don’t turn on their meters, and no mechanism for lodging complaints exists; these are the normal procedures for taxis operating in Egypt. Ordinary taxi drivers were the only entity implicitly allowed to organize labor strikes to demonstrate against a new technology, blocking downtown areas for hours.
To date, the Egyptian government has not authorized either company to work legally. The thousands of drivers that cruise the Egyptian streets every day are illegal workers; every now and then, they are fined by the traffic police. This simply symbolizes how businesses operate in Egypt; they are allowed to work without official permits, with the authorities turning a blind eye to their misconducts—thus enabling the government to penalize any business entity whenever it suits it.
Egypt is struggling with its old-fashioned structure that refuses to adopt anything new, happy to continue living with its obsolete system that benefits many opportunists at the expense of the national economy. Egyptians work to live! Sadly, many Egyptian citizens are not passionate about the work they do and are continuously thinking of switching to better jobs! On the flipside of the coin, company owners are looking for better executive staff and employees, whom they are unable to find. Both employees and employers are unlikely to meet their right partners—because the entire structure and environment have nothing to do with true professionalism.